The dream of a single 911 dispatch operation in the Tri-Cities is becoming reality as emergency officials in Benton and Franklin counties negotiate an agreement that will eventually combine operations.
After years of failed discussions and efforts, the two sides have agreed to follow a roadmap developed by a consultant to guide the transition.
Steve Reinke of Reinke & Associates, drafted a proposal that would make Franklin County and the city of Pasco full voting members in Southeast Communications Center in exchange for a $500,000 capital contribution from each.
The figure is based on SECOMM’s presumed fund balance of $1.5 million, which translates into $500,000 in “equity” for its three owners — Benton County, Richland and Kennewick.
SECOMM administrators say Reinke’s plan doesn’t fully cover the investment, but at a recent meeting, the partners agreed to keep the negotiations moving.
In response to concerns about the capital contribution, Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell said the city and county expect their investment to purchase a share in the system from the date an eventual agreement is signed and not prior investments.
“It may or may not be a perfectly derived amount, but I think finding perfect in a situation is impossibly elusive except at great cost in time and effort,” he wrote.
Police, fire and other emergency responders have long pushed for a consolidated 911 dispatch center, saying a single point of contact for 911 callers in the Tri-City region will improve response times by reducing the number of calls from mobile devices that are sent to the wrong center.
Benton County has a more sophisticated system, in part, because it has an agreement with Motorola to keep its equipment current, making it the natural home for a regional dispatch system.
But the Franklin County entities balked at joining SECOMM as subscribers, under which they would join West Richland, Prosser and other cities that pay subscription fees but aren’t actual owners. Franklin County and Pasco say they don’t want to give up their own system without having a substantial vote in the agency’s future.
In other business, the Benton County Emergency Management board approved a $4.4 million budget for 2017 that includes a substantial increase in administrative fees to Richland, which administers the operation.
Richland estimates the cost is almost twice the $250,000 it receives in fees. Under the increase, Richland will be compensated for about 70 percent of its $457,000 in SECOMM-related costs.
Richland expects to absorb some of the cost as the host, but 50 percent was too high a burden, said City Manager Cindy Reents.